Yesterday, the awful news was revealed that three teens who had been kidnapped in Israel just a couple of weeks ago were found, all dead and most likely killed by their captors shortly after being taken. Israel's official response was to blame Hamas (which have neither taken credit for nor denied involvement in the incident) and then to bomb the crap out of the Gaza strip.
The Jewish community around the world mourns the tragic and terribly wrong deaths of these kids and rightly so. They were someone's kids, killed for being Jews. I cannot imagine what it must be like to outlive your child, but for three mothers in Israel this is what has happened.
So far, no one I know of has publicly mourned the civilians who were killed when Gaza was bombed.
I think that's a problem.
I think it's a bigger problem that I feel hesitant -- no, silenced outright, prevented somehow from expressing sorrow and injustice at the sheet waste of this "collateral" murdering, in polite Jewish company.
All of this violence is killing everyone's children, Jewish or not.
I find myself observing various things in the wake of this news, in no particular order:
a. While my humble newsfeed was filled with expressions of sadness and outrage from Jewish contacts, I have not seen or heard anything from any of my non-Jewish contacts. Nothing.
b. Voices for peace continue to cry out that all of this killing -- whether it's these Jewish boys, or the Palestinian youths who were killed last month by IDF soldiers -- is equally wrong and must be stopped. They offer no meaningful, concrete solutions as to how this might happen, only continued prayers and pleas for peace.
c. Some of the responses to these pleas for peace are angry at the comparisons between Israeli and Palestinian youths. They insist (and I'm paraphrasing here) that no Palestinian youth can be truly "innocent" because they are products of a culture that urges them on towards ever more violence against Israelis, and against Jews around the world.
d. Plowing slowly and painfully through a list of suggested summer reading on Israel, I find that I do not know how to process what I've read. Admittedly, reading in deep, slow detail is simply very hard for me -- but the gist of these various writings leaves me more confused, not less. In one large history of Israel, the blatant use of the words "colonial interests" disturbs me; why would any author give fuel to critics' insistence that Israel is little than another vestige of white European colonialism?
Another book, calling itself "an educational agenda for liberal Zionism," insists that anyone who loves Israel and wants peace MUST get involved in Israel's business; that Israelis need us to do this (even if they won't admit it); that everything about Israel and, by extension, about being Jewish is political. THis book also insists that we MUST love Israel in order to have a more complete Jewish life.
What if I don't love Israel because I don't know it? or because I don't know how to know it? My sense of Jewish identity is almost exclusively based on being a Jew in America. Does that make me a massive failure as a Jew?
My travels back and forth to eastern Kansas over the last year have taught me that to begin to have relationship with a place and its people we must visit the place and see it for ourselves. And after four trips there, I am beginning to know the lay of the land a little and have forged some beautiful friendships with people there. A Jewish congregation in eastern Kansas has become my home away from home. My trips and experiences there have been a real gift, something that has invited me to grow and to evolve some of my ideas about community and connection. I will be forever grateful for that gift, and forever grateful for the people I've come to know there.
But Kansas is not Israel.
It's not a Jewish place. It's not a place where Jews once fled to escape the horrors of the Holocaust, or where they went when their country of origin wouldn't have them back. It's not the place where the story of the Jewish people happened. And it's not surrounded by a dozen hostile states whose citizens want to see Kansas wiped from the map and are willing to kills Kansans to help bring that about.
Kansas isn't Israel. But it is a place I have begun to know a little more, and a place I look forward to visiting again soon, and a place I hope to show my Sweetie so she can meet some of the lovely, sweet people I've befriended there. It has become, for me, another place where I am welcome, even embraced, as a Jew and that means something to me.
I will travel, I hope, to other Jewish communities in the United States, as my new career grows and evolves and becomes more clear. Will I form as strong an attachment to these other places as I have to this one community in eastern Kansas? I don't know. And what does this have to do with my relationship with Israel? I don't know that, either.
I do know this: with every report of violence in Israel, I am saddened, but in a mostly general way. I am as saddened by the murder of these three teens as I was by the disappearance of the Nigerian school girls (whose whereabouts remain unknown and whose story has, predictably, faded into media invisibility).
When the shootings happened in Overland Park the day before Passover, my heart caught in my throat and I felt truly scared for my friends there. As I set the table for our seder in Portland, I found myself crying for my friends and wishing that they would be okay, that they would figure out how to move through this towards some kind of healing. I wished I could be there to hug them and comfort them. My reaction to the events of last April was far more deeply personal than anything I've heard from or about Israel.
And yet, my ears prick up when there is mention of Israel in the news. This is not something I've cultivated. It's just something that happens, that has happened for a long time. I can't say exactly why. I know I'd like there to be a better reason for that phenomenon than just some vague Jewish "vibe". I want to think it's more than DNA; after all, lots of Jewish converts express a deep, abiding love for Israel -- where did that come from?
I've observed the difference in my reactions, and it has stayed with me, gnawing at me. Does it take contact with a place and its people to create a personal sense of proximity? Perhaps, though my highly mobile childhood has not left me with a great sense of nostalgia about any of my four childhood "hometowns". We didn't stay in any of them long enough, we didn't invest in any of them deeply emotionally enough, for that to happen. My parents were my greatest teachers of the art of detachment, and their quietly powerful influence remains with me to this day, though it no longer shapes my words and actions quite so strongly. There is room for other approaches now. I am trying to figure them out.
Obviously, there is much more to it than simply going to a place and being there, maybe even more than getting to know some people there. But what? And how might this help me to form any sort of relationship with seemingly unreachable Israel? Even after spending two weeks teaching a little tiny bit about Israel's history and landscape to a bunch of sweet kids, my own relationship with the place remains as unclear as ever. It is highly possible that my Judaism may never be as informed by Israel as by the life I live here. Is that wrong? Why or why not? As ever, I have no answers, but I feel more and more pressure to come up with some.